Small Town Torn Over Big Wind

By Tobin Hack

Greg Bryant, a sixth-generation Vermonter and organic farmer, lives in Sheffield, Vermont, population roughly 730. From landfill methane harvesting to woodchip burning, he’s always believed in generating clean, renewable energy at home.

Bryant once was also an avid supporter of large-scale wind farms—until UPC Wind made plans to build a 16-turbine wind farm in his hometown. Now he vehemently opposes such projects, which he claims will overwhelm his stomping grounds environmentally and economically. Bryant and members of Ridge Protectors, a nonprofit he co-founded three years ago to oppose large-scale wind projects in the state, have raised $750,000 to stop the Sheffield project.

But not everyone opposes it:  Sheffield residents voted 120 to 93 for wind in a non-binding poll.

Vermont—which has only one wind farm today— has historically imported most of its energy, but that could change in the coming years. In the next decade, the license for its Yankee nuclear power plant will expire and its hydro-Quebec contracts will run out, meaning the state could potentially lose the sources that provide two-thirds of its energy. In the meantime, UPC and other companies have started jumping in line with proposals for industrial wind farms to meet the state’s energy needs.

Sheffield isn’t the only community divided over turbines. Environmental groups were disappointed earlier this year when Maine’s Land Use Regulation Commission rejected a wind farm on Redington Mountain. And a proposed farm off the shore off Massachusetts’ Cape Cod has been under debate for so long that books have been written about the controversy.

In Sheffield, tensions are running high as UPC awaits the permit necessary to launch the project.

Leslie and Kathy Newland support the wind farm, which, if built, will be clearly visible from their home.

“We were pro-wind before we ever knew that wind was coming to Sheffield,” says Newland. “It’s a no-brainer. It’s a clean business that will pay taxes.”

But members of Ridge Protectors say the benefits the company is promising aren’t sufficient to justify the impact the turbines would have on the wildlife, economy, and community.

“Our problem with the project is the size and the scale,” Bryant says of the 420-foot turbines. “We support projects that support the local community, and directly profit the town, not giant, state-wide projects.”

For their part, project developers say that over 20 years, the wind farm could bring $11 million to the town, operate at 30-percent efficiency, and produce 115,000 megawatt-hours per year.

Furthermore, UPC maintains that the project can move forward safely, pointing to its study on the potential impact of the turbines on bats—a major concern among critics. As a result of the study, the company has agreed to shut down the turbines during peak bat hours, at certain times of year, and in certain weather conditions.

Skeptical of the study, Ridge Protectors hired University of Vermont biologist William Kilpatrick to conduct acoustic monitoring tests on some of the same nights. His investigation found that significantly more bats visit the area than reported by the other study, which Ridge Protectors says is cause for concern.  

Despite the potential risks, environmental groups support the project. According to Conservation Law Foundation attorney Sandra Levine, wind power could eventually contribute a significant portion of the state’s energy.

“Wind is completely free, and operating costs are relatively low,” she says. “The alternatives for Vermont are going to be more coal, more nuclear, more gas. A wind turbine is like a band-aid on your arm, and coal extraction is like amputation.”

Levine says that the controversy is less about efficiency and practicability than it is about aesthetics.

“I suspect that if wind power were invisible, 90 percent of the opposition would go away,” she says.

Sheffield residents argue that the project might cause property values to drop, and deter tourists who come to enjoy the town’s natural beauty. But pro-wind residents say the turbines might actually draw visitors.

No deadline has been set for Vermont's three-man Public Service Board to make a decision on the fate of the wind farm, but whatever the outcome, residents agree on one thing: The controversy has produced anything but neighborly sentiments.

“The communities have been devastated,” says Bryant.


That is what these wind plant people do.They come in town and give you all these false claims.with no proof to back them up.They have no proof. We're supposred to believe them.In the real world (Studies have been done all over the world)they will do nothing to stop any fossil fuled power plants or stop any c02 emissions.They come in and blow our mountains to bits for nothing.
I don't know when the American people will wake up and see wind plants are about money. Only money.They are not some enviromental company here to save us .Most of them are the cause of co2 emissions.Most of the time they are partners with the big oil companies.The one that are building coal fired power plants all over the U.S.
I say let them build them and if they don't live up to their claims have them decomissioned them.Then we will see how many permit will be applied for.I'd say not too many.It's the biggest scam to come down the pike in a long time.The people need to do their homework on these things.I would not support any wind plant anywhere.
I Maine we are beating them right now,but there is so much money to make in federal subsities they just keep on coming.Good luck don't give up.

Below is an email which I sent to Governor Douglas offering an alternative to wind farms.

Greetings Governor Douglas:

I am a distributor of the new RaceCom Wind Turbine System. This revolutionary new system generates electricity without the use of a large propeller driven turbine. The entire unit sits on the roof of the facility to which it is supplying electricity. Less than ten feet in height, the RaceCom Wind Turbine should be able to be installed without any special building permit requirements. The Wind Turbine is extremely quiet and does not impose a danger to birds or other wild life. Best of all, unlike wind farms, the Wind Turbine is less likely to be subject to terrorist attacks because each facility has its own Wind Turbine.

RaceCom is willing to install the new Wind Turbine on any government, industrial, or commercial facility at NO COST. However, the facility must meet the following requirements:

1. The facility must be eligible for net metering or cogeneration.
2. The facility must have a flat roof and an adequate wind supply.

RaceCom will guarantee the Wind Turbine for a period of ten years and will maintain the unit for that period of time. RaceCom will receive a portion of the electricity cost savings over the ten year period as compensation for installing and maintaining the Wind Turbine. In addition, any grants or credits associated with the installation of a wind turbine will be assigned to RaceCom.

I urge you to contact me in order to discuss how we can work together to decrease the electricity costs for your citizens, and to decrease the dependence on foreign oil.

Sincerely yours,
Richard Martin
Penndleton Enterprises, Inc.
72 Fletcher Avenue
Cranston, RI 02920

I am not sure how wind turbines blow mountains to bits, at least their impact on mountain sides are less than that of COAL MINING! Wind power is in the forefront of renewable, clean energy and wind turbine technologies are making huge headway in increasing productivity. Yes, there are concerns with bats as seen and studied at Mountaineer in W.V., but there are ways to combat this. The turbines are relatively noise and vibration free and living here in N.CA near the Altamont Pass I have to say I often see wildlife grazing underneath, they are graceful, elegant and they represent a future free of hydrocarbon dependence which is the most critical component. Would this town in VT prefer a nuclear power station built on the land these windmills are going on or just no power at all? Denmark alone provides over 20% of the power from wind....obviously doesn't have residents with close minds and ignorance.

Denmark's use of hydrocarbons for electricity has continued to grow as if the wind turbines weren't there. Most of Denmark's wind energy is exported, so that it represents only 1% of the connected international grids.

Sadly, there is no evidence that industrial wind turbines "represent a future free of hydrocarbon dependence" (or of nuclear power). In fact, the blades are made of hydrocarbons and the gears require hundreds of gallons of oil for lubrication and cooling.

They are a symptom of, not a solution, to our energy crisis.